Dan Walsh, Staff Writer, NRL.com
"I don't think I can get any worse."
This is the frank and honest appraisal of Bulldogs enforcer Tony Williams when asked just 10 weeks ago about his underwhelming first year in the famous blue and white.
It was a different story as the City Origin side came together for the first time in preparation for Sunday's clash with Country in Dubbo, with the man who last year barely resembled his previously apt moniker 'T-Rex' slowly building toward the form that won him Australian and New South Wales honours two years ago.
When asked how he has dealt with the expectation that comes with a reported $600,000-a-year price tag, and the inevitable criticism that comes when those lofty expectations are not met, Williams gives the simplest of responses.
Surely being labelled the NRL's worst buy of 2013 at the end of last season must've stoked some sort of fire in the belly of the big man, or hung heavy on the shoulders clearly on loan from an Olympic butterfly swimmer?
"It never really fazed me either way," Williams offers with a non-committal shrug, before revealing the standards set by himself and coach Des Hasler are the only ones measures his 192-centimetre, 120-kilo frame against.
"You know yourself when you're playing if you're under-performing.
"You don't need anyone to tell you so I just ignored it all."
"I've been disappointed in myself. I knew what to do and knew what I was capable of; it was just a matter of getting in and doing it."
The frustrating thing for fans of both the blue and white and sky-blue variety is that what Williams is capable of made him one of the most feared players in the game at the back end of 2011, but his numbers so far this year give cause for healthy, but cautious optimism.
His 106 running metres per game are well up on his 2012 output (77m per match), and his 27 tackle breaks are the most by any member of Hasler's side, and City coach Brad Fittler hopes the T-Rex renaissance continues as City look to avenge last year's 18-12 loss in Coffs Harbour.
"Tony's copped a bit of criticism over the last 12 months, some of it justified but most of not, but it's good to see him getting back to what everyone in rugby league knows he's capable of," Fittler told NRL.com.
"He's breaking tackles again and causing some headaches for the defence, which is what you want.
"I've been really impressed with him this year and you'll always take a big guy like him in the team any day of the week."